Olivier Meslay, a longtime museum professional with international and Massachusetts ties, has been named the new director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.
Meslay, who currently serves at the Dallas Museum of Art as both associate director of curatorial affairs and senior curator of European and American art, replaces Michael Conforti, who stepped down last August after overseeing the Clark’s ambitious expansion. Meslay will formally assume his duties on Aug. 22.
“I’m very happy and very proud,” said Meslay, 59, who was raised in France. “For me the Clark Institute is a perfect blend between the museum, which has one of the most refined and beautiful collections of European and American art . . . and the research and academic programs, which for me is very important.”
Nestled on a 140-acre campus, the Clark houses a renowned collection that ranges from Old Masters to 19th-century European art and works by American painters such as John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer. It also functions as a research institute, hosting international scholars and housing the graduate program in art history at nearby Williams College.
Andreas Halvorsen, chairman of the Clark Institute’s board of trustees, praised the new director’s international experience and scholarship.
“We are thrilled to welcome Olivier Meslay,” said Halvorsen. “He comes to the Clark with a deep appreciation for our academic mission, an expert understanding of our museum program, and an energetic perspective on ways to enhance our dual mission and extend the Clark’s reach and impact.”
At the Dallas museum, Meslay was in charge of more than 4,000 artworks in the European and American art collection. He also managed the museum’s curatorial department, conservation program, and art research library. From 2011-2012, he served as the museum’s interim director. He also acted as the museum’s curatorial agent with the French American Museum Exchange, an organization that comprises 30 American and French museums.
Prior to his 2009 arrival in Texas, Meslay held a variety of positions during a 17-year career at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, including curator in charge of British, American, and Spanish paintings, as well as chief curator of Louvre–Atlanta, a joint project with the High Museum.
But while much of his career was based in Europe, Meslay is no stranger to Massachusetts. He worked as an intern at the Museum of Fine Arts in 1993, and in 2000, he and his wife, Laure de Margerie, were fellows in the Clark’s research and academic program.
“That was a turning point in my career, because when I came back to the Louvre I focused more on American projects than I did before,” Meslay said, adding that his children went to school in Williamstown during the fellowship year. “That influenced my desire to work in this country.”
Francis Oakley, the Clark’s interim director, said it was gratifying to see Meslay return to the museum.
“It was clear from the very beginning that he had a deep affinity for the Clark and for the unique relationship between our museum and research programs,” Oakley said. “Olivier’s passion for the Clark and for Williamstown and the Berkshires, combined with his extraordinary scholarship and leadership, hold great promise for the future.”
Named a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government, Meslay is the author of several books, including “Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper From David to Cezanne” and “J.M.W. Turner, The Man Who Set Painting on Fire.”
“The idea of going back to the Clark makes a lot of sense for me now,” said Meslay. “We love the place.”Malcolm Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @malcolmgay.